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What Luther Says

Pursue Unity In 'The Apostles' Doctrine'

Unity has been on my mind a lot these days.

Perhaps it's because I'm a lonely eyewitness to the "Church Growth Movement's" effect on the LCMS Church that I belong to as we call a new Pastor and become more "missional" too.

Perhaps it's because I'm saddened by the sheer lack of understanding from the majority within our congregation when it comes to the fundamentals of our shared and cherished Christian faith let alone our Lutheran Confessions.

Bottom line, I'm regularly confronted with reminders that we need to pursue unity "in the apostles' doctrine" and not just unity in love and peace at the expense of truth all the time (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 4).

Why is that very important? Non-Lutheran Christian Apologist, Bob DeWaay, gives us the answers.

We are in the midst of a radical change in evangelicalism that has left countless Christians starving for God's Word in their churches. Proponents of the change have labeled as "divisive" those who resist the movement away from Gospel preaching and Bible teaching. Opponents of the change are declared judgmental and selfish "Pharisees" and are told that they should be more loving toward others and quit hanging onto their old ideas about church. In short the "troublemakers" are told they must embrace the new paradigm or leave.

At issue is the true nature of Christian unity. Are we united by God's work of grace that converted us, giving us the unity of the Spirit with all true Christians, or are we united organizationally with the corporate "vision" of the new paradigm change agents?

My thesis is that Biblically defined unity is a Gospel-centered unity that always works toward the unity of the faith.
Biblically defined unity is never a unity centered about the corporate vision of the new religious marketing agents.

True unity is Gospel-centric. The Bible is God's unchanging authority for all true Christians throughout the church age. It stands to reason that the more our thinking and practice are in line with the Bible, the more united we shall be.

People with a love for God because of His work of grace through the Gospel and a love for the truth of Scripture will be more united with one another as they learn Scripture together. This is how the very first church came together.

Acts 2:42 (KJV) And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

It should be obvious that the "apostles' doctrine" is found in the New Testament, and not in some new book that appeals to the unregenerate mind. It is a perversion of this text to use it to promote the study of anything besides a literal translation of the Bible.

When human wisdom rather than God's Word is preached in the public assembly, Christians are being robbed of one of God's means of changing lives that would preserve the unity of the Spirit. The words of man that are substituted for the Word of God are a hindrance to the unity of the faith.

Exegetically sound, expository preaching preserves the unity of the Spirit by giving people God's means by which He graciously changes lives and promotes progress toward the unity of the faith.

The winds of doctrine that are blowing people about and undermining their precious faith must be resisted. Equipping the saints with God's Word will give them the spiritual strength to withstand these winds and to progress in true Christian unity.

To summarize, Gospel preaching aims to bring people into the unity of the Spirit because it is the means God has chosen for converting lost sinners and baptizing them into the body of Christ.

Bible teaching spiritually nurtures those who have been converted and helps them grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. This is a means of mitigating fleshly attitudes and behavior, thus preserving Christian unity.

Finally, the goal of Gospel preaching and pure Bible teaching is that Christ's body may come into the unity of the faith. I do not believe that full unity will happen until Christ returns. It is, however, the job of Christian leaders to guard and nurture Christian unity until He returns.

*- Bob DeWaay

Amen! Clearly, this is why we need to beware of false unity.

Why? Because we must not pursue unity at all costs let alone at the expense of sound doctrine.

It reminds me of what Daniel Preus wrote in Why I Am A Lutheran: Jesus At The Center.

In The Lutheran Church, we attempt to express in our practice this unity extolled by David and Paul. In Lutheran worship, therefore, we recognize the essential unity that exists between the baptismal font, the pulpit, and the altar. The faith into which a child is baptized is the one true faith of which Paul speaks in Ephesians. The faith the pastor proclaims from the pulpit is not his opinion or even his view about the faith. Rather, what he proclaims is the one true faith itself as expressed in the creeds. And the faith confessed at the altar when we receive the Lord's Supper is not the individual faith of each believer. The forgiveness that cleanses you at the Lord's Supper clings to "the faith" of the church. Thus the font, pulpit, and altar express unity of faith. Therefore, Lutheran pastors do not preach from the pulpit anything that differs from the faith into which a child is baptized. Nor do communicants come to the altar with beliefs and convictions that contradict that which is preached from the pulpit.
pp. 146-147

At the same time, let's not kid ourselves either.

I'm quickly coming to learn that it's not just unity around a particular confession of faith (i.e., the Creeds) that matters. We Lutherans boldly believe, teach, and confess that it's unity in both Word and Sacraments that matters most.

Marquart in his "Church In The Twenty-First Century" asserted that the church "cannot recognize anything other than the purely preached Gospel and the rightly administered sacraments as constituting 'the right doctrine and church,' and therefore the boundaries of church fellowship (Augsburg Confession VIII, and Formula of Concord, S.D. X, 31)."

Word and Sacraments. Repeat. Word and Sacraments.

Here's Hermann Sasse for emphasis...

"So far as we humans can judge, a church bereft of the Sacrament would be swallowed up by the world and cease to be church, just as has in fact transpired. Whenever the Lord’s Supper has been permitted to decay, the boundary lines between church and world have universally disappeared and the church has been absorbed into the world. The Supper is thus the Sacrament in which the church’s ‘foreignness from the world,’ and hence her essence as church of God, finds visible expression. ... Because the church possesses this Sacrament, she can wait [for Jesus' return] for centuries and millenia on end. The Supper bridges the space of time between Jesus’ days on earth and his return. ... It is eaten on the migration from the world to the kingdom of God, from time to eternity, from the here and now to the beyond. ... All attempts to build Christian congregations without placing at their center the congregation-forming Sacrament of the Altar are just as much condemned to failure as are efforts to renew the Divine Service without renewing the Sacrament. ... Where the custom of churchgoing has lapsed with the consequence that the Christian congregation is dead or dying, there is but one single means for getting people back to church. Hunger and thirst for the Lord’s Supper must be aroused in them. Whenever this hunger and thirst awake—and it obviously does not lie within our power to awaken them—people go to church again. ... The renewal of the Christian congregation and her Divine Service therefore begins, in a way that most theologians today still find incomprehensible, when we once again seriously learn and teach what the NT and the catechism say on Baptism and the Supper. ... A church that does not continually gather around the Supper must undergo secularization. It must irreversibly turn into a piece of the world, because the Supper establishes the boundary between church and world. ... Thus, the Gospel itself dies with the Supper."

*- Church And Lord’s Supper
, The Lonely Way, 1:381, 393, 395, 420, 421.

Simply put, what does a new, young Confessional Lutheran like me do when he comes face-to-face with the reality that those who claim to be "Confessional" let alone "Lutheran" are merely giving lip service to such pronouncements?

What does a new, young Christian like me do when he comes face-to-face with the reality that those who claim to be fellow Christians themselves have several doubts about the truthfulness of the Bible and the deity of Christ?

The answer should be quite easy. What he doesn't do is bite his tongue or look the other way to preserve the status quo in a relationship. I believe there are many verses in Scripture that make that quite clear (Romans 1:16; 1 Peter 4:16; Luke 9:25-26 and Mark 8:37-38).

Still, no offense to my present company, but oh how I crave genuine flesh-and-blood fellowship with others who share my fidelity to the Lord and His Word! Such a sad turn of events and I pray that the Lord will open their hearts, minds, eyes, and ears to the truth sooner rather than later.

Whatever happened to contending for "for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) or not yielding "in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you" (Galatians 2:4-5)?

Nowadays, "Thou Shall Not Offend" has become the 11th Commandment and those who stand up in church and/or approach another believer (even privately one-on-one) to discuss certain concerns are called "divisive" and "judgmental" and treated as though they are modern-day Pharisees.

After all, "Who are you to question another person's faith!?!" they say. Well, if you must know, I am no one. I'm only a wretched sinner saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and He expects me to judge, but to judge...righteously.

All of those facts merely underscore what we already knew from the Bible.

John 6:44 (ESV) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 (ESV)
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

1 John 2:18-19 (ESV) 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

My dear friends, I can assure you that I'm not one to go looking for a debate. I really don't.

Contrary to what I've shared in this forum in recent weeks (particularly those challenges and spiritual struggles with others within my own local church), my life is not characterized by constantly looking at other people's lives and the words that come out of their mouth just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on them and point out the inconsistencies with the faith that they proclaim to possess.

Again, I know who I am (Romans 7:24; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 13:5). But I also know how much is at stake here too. I respect the rich heritage and history of the Lutheran Church and what it went through in fighting for fidelity to God's Word; what it did to preserve the true faith for future believers like me.

By the way, I hope that my decision to share my concerns here doesn't make me seem self-righteous either. Boy, am I anything but! Being the "wretched man that I am" (Romans 7:24), I'm so thankful for the Lord's means of grace available to me, and to have been fed His Word and Sacrament this morning.

His true Body, true Blood, truly present! Jesus did it all and Jesus continues to do it all for me! What a glorious reality!

In a Lutheran layman's terms, I will continue "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) but I will also be praying that He will keep me focused on Jude 1:20-23 that reads: "But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh."

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, you might discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. I decided to leave those published posts up only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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